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Early cases of norovirus and influenza detected in Nanaimo

Early signs of influenza and norovirus cases mean Nanaimo residents should be bracing themselves for a possible onslaught of flu season, say health officials.

“There’s certainly widespread outbreaks in many parts of North America at this point, and we’d expect to see a fair bit of influenza over the next few weeks,” said Paul Hasselback, central Island medical health officer, with the Vancouver Island Health Authority. “At the same time, we’re seeing norovirus, and that sometimes goes by the term stomach flu.”

To date, there have been no outbreaks of either influenza or norovirus at VIHA facilities, however there was a brief influenza outbreak at Nanaimo Seniors Village, Hasselback said, adding that it had been contained last week.

He said it is important for people to make the distinction between influenza and norovirus, as they are often confused.

“Norovirus is a nausea, vomiting, diarrhea bug that happens during the winter, and it tends to spread quite quickly when it occurs,” Hasselback said. “Up to one out of every 10 people may come down with it at some point.”

Unlike influenza, norovirus comes quick and only lasts about two days. In addition to gastrointestinal symptoms, those with norovirus might experience aching limbs and headaches.

Influenza symptoms can include fever, muscle pain, runny nose, sore throat, extreme tiredness and cough, with some experiencing nausea, vomiting or diarrhea as well.

The symptoms begin about two days after the person is first exposed, and can last seven to 10 days, though the coughing can last one or two weeks more. Hasselback said residents can help wash their hands of infection with immaculate personal hygiene.

“If people do the right things they can not only help themselves stay healthy but also perhaps let others stay healthy,” he said.

In addition to washing hands, it is important for those who are sick to stay away from handling food, cough into a sleeve rather than into the air (especially with influenza) and stay home from school or work.

“It’s all those things we know we should do but we don’t because we’re in too much of a rush,” Hasselback said.

Neither influenza nor norovirus require drugs to be treated, though there is an antiviral medication that can reduce symptoms for a short period of time recommended for those most vulnerable (elderly, children and those with chronic respiratory or cardiac diseases), although those individuals should be receiving flu vaccinations in the first place, he said.

For information, please visit www.viha.ca.

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